USF protest highlights plight of adjunct faculty

On an overcast Wednesday as the surrounding campus teemed with activity, a handful of people were gathered outside USF Marshall Center to shed light on an issue that doesn't get a whole lot of attention: the paltry pay that adjunct faculty receive.

Adjunct professors teach at colleges and universities; usually core or lower-level classes. Despite having advanced degrees and other academic achievements, they do not have tenure, nor do they have any semblance of job security. Typically they make between $1,000-$2,000 per class they teach per semester. The most they can expect to earn is $24,000 annually with that course load level. 

“You have stories of professors who live on food stamps," said Cole Bellamy, an adjunct at St. Leo University who teaches English and creative writing. "You have stories of professors who live in their cars. I know people who teach classes at HCC and then go wait tables when they're done, and they're probably making more money waiting tables.”

Locally organized by members of the Fight for 15 campaign that is fighting for minimum wage for fast food workers, the USF action happened in conjunction with a national protest among adjuncts and people who support higher wages for them. Students and adjuncts from other universities joined them, as did minimum wage protesters.

Bellamy said he's managed to land enough adjunct work to survive, but most of those who are not able to land a tenured teaching position are so lucky. He said while it's a matter of compassion, it's also a matter of the quality of education.

“Yes, it's about a living wage, but it's also about the quality of education," he said. "It can be really hard to teach a class when you have $75 in your bank account and $600 in student loan bills. That is not conducive to being an effective anything, really.”

Only one adjunct currently working on the USF campus showed up to the demonstration, but she wanted to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. She did say she teaches at three separate campuses between Hillsborough and Manatee counties.
Keegan Shephard, who is currently pursuing his phD in history at USF, said he used to work as one in Central Florida, where he had to shuffle between multiple campuses in order to make a living.

“It's shitty," he said. "On top of getting paid a fraction of what full-time or tenured faculty make, it's that every three months, you're constantly worried about if you're going to be as secure as you are now. So just because you're working a full course load one term doesn't mean you're guaranteed a full course load the next term. Or you get promised certain classes, and then, because of enrollment they get taken away, or because of other factors they get taken away. You can never plan for more than two months out.” 

Julia Irwin, a tenured professor of history at USF (and, for purposes of disclosure, a relative of a close friend of this reporter), said she was there to show solidarity for her colleagues, though she stressed that her views do not reflect those of her department, administration or any other part of USF. She said it's unfair that people who spent the better part of a decade studying for, and ultimately achieving, an advanced degree, aren't better compensated.

“They have been through six, eight, ten years of school just to scrape together the basic minimum wage, so there's not a lot of security there,” she said.

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